Pie Crust Science

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The lesson plan that went with Travis’s recent Apple Crumb Pie recipe delved deeper into what makes a pie crust so yummy. This was a hard one to tailor for Travis’s age, so here’s just an abbreviated version.

Start off with a read of Enemy Pie by Derek Munson, which you can find at your library or watch a full read-through online. This interesting story will whet the appetite, if you will, for pie!

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Travis enjoyed watching, and afterwards we talked about what role pie had played in the story. We talked about pies we’ve made, and specifically about the components that had gone into our recent crust. I helped him remember that we had used:

  • flour
  • sugar
  • salt
  • Earth Balance butter
  • water

You can go through the reasons for each ingredient, as well as definitions for tenderness and flakiness, the two things that people look for in a “successful” crust. Another quick video clip helped Travis understand the idea better.

Raddishthen suggests letting kids become food scientists, making two different pie crusts but only changing one variable. I knew though that Travis would lose interest in taking time to bake two crusts, plus I worried two full pies would go to waste! The idea of independent and dependent variables was also a bit advanced for a kindergartner.

So instead, we baked a store-bought pie shell from our freezer that differed from our homemade crust in one significant way: palm oil as the fat instead of our Earth Balance butter. I had him do a side-by-side taste test of the crusts, both of which he declared delicious.

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Older kids can be much more scientific about this. Consider varying the type of flour used, the tool used for mixing, and more. Chart independent and dependent variables along a graph if your kids are old enough for that kind of math. Invite friends over for a complete taste test, if you have the time!

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So this was a brief lesson for my little one, but there is lots more to explain here if desired.

Brighten Dark Winter Nights

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We are loving winter so far, with snow to play in and forts to build. The key, I have learned, to loving this darkest season is to keep things cozy. Here are four fun ways we’ve found to brighten the nights that begin as early as 4 p.m.!

First, we had an extra string of Christmas tree lights, and I gave Travis permission to hang them in his room.

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He loved that these had the option for flashing or steady modes, and he could control it with a button.

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Next, we made glow-in-the-dark paintings. Your kids can be deliberate or artsy with this activity…

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…Or just blob on the paint, as Travis did. He wanted maximum glow!

Brighten Nights (9)Next, we made a campfire. We scribbled brown marker on paper, rolled the paper up, and taped shut for quick “logs”.

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All our battery-powered tea lights in the house provided the perfect glow for reading Christmas stories and singing carols. A winter camp out!

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While we were at the “campfire”, we made sure to act out stories with shadow puppets, too.

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In sum, we’re staying cozy and happy, and excited for dark nights to come.

How to Build a Snow Fort


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It’s only the third day of December and Travis is on the second snow day off from school. That meant we had to test out Highlights magazine’s tips for making the best snow fort!

Highlights recommended first delineating an area for your fort with a stick. We used a shovel instead, making a big square on our patio and then mounding up the walls to give us a base.

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To make bricks for the walls, fill a rectangular container with snow. Drizzle with a little water, than add a final layer of snow on top.

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Depending on the consistency of your snowfall, you may or may not need that extra water. We soon found that we did not – today anyway! Continue building until you have several layers of “bricks”.

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We even tried adding windows.

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Simply twist an empty soup can to drill a little peephole.

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Even more fun was adding food color to a spritz bottle; now we could decorate our fort’s walls with art (though I wish Travis hadn’t opted for orange!).


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Travis loved being in charge of the “moat”, shoveling a long path away from our fort.

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And we even armed ourselves with ammo, in case enemies (i.e. neighborhood friends) happened to storm the castle!

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Don’t forget a side door to sneak out of! What special activities to you do on a snow day off from school? Please share in the comment!

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Chickpea Noodle Soup

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Of all the vegan variations helpfully provided by Raddish Kids, this one deviated most from the original ingredients and purpose of the recipe Travis received in his kit. Based on a Turkey Noodle Soup recipe intended to use up Thanksgiving leftovers, the vegan variation was a chickpea soup. There was no vegan suggestion for the egg noodles in the original, so we opted for elbow macaroni. Now we had more of a classic broth and bean soup cooked over a mirepoix. But it was perfect timing for a boy home from school with a cold on a snow day!


  • 1 onion
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 (15-ounce) drained and rinsed can chickpeas
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups elbow macaroni
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
  1. Peel and chop the onion. Chop the carrot and celery, and mince the garlic. Set these vegetables as in a bowl; they will be your flavor base.Chickpea Noodle Soup (1)
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the vegetable mixture, along with the salt and pepper; cook for 10 minutes.Chickpea Noodle Soup (2)
  3. Add the broth, water, and chickpeas. Bring to a boil, then stir in the pasta. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes.
  4. Stir in the parsley, then spoon into bowls to serve.

This was the first recipe that’s ever gotten Travis to enjoy chickpeas, so a big winner!

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Your kids  can enjoy information about other flavor bases from around the world (this one uses the French mirepoix) as well as some turkey trivia as you dine.

Create Holiday Cards

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This holiday season, I’m trying to help Travis understand the meaning of charity a little more deeply. It’s never too early to model charitable giving, especially around the holidays, but you also don’t want to alarm young children with issues like illness and poverty.

One action that’s just right for kindergarten age kids is to spread holiday cheer through cards. Cards for Hospitalized Kids accepts letters all year long, but you can easily tailor it with a holiday message in December.

Travis has a cold right now, which helped him sympathize; he was alarmed to learn that some children have illnesses that last much longer than a cold, and need to live in a hospital. He was immediately excited to make a card for these boys and girls.

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Following the organization’s guidelines, we designed a card and Travis wrote his own Merry Christmas message. We thought happy face stickers were just right for adding a bit of cheer.

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We added just a touch of glitter. When I asked him if he wanted me to draw a Christmas tree on the inside, he insisted on drawing it himself!

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I was proud of the generosity that went into this one project. More to follow as the lead-up to Christmas continues!

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Santa’s Sleigh Automaton

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I originally purchased this special holiday crate from Kiwi Co thinking it would be fun to put together with Travis. It turns out that it was so complicated even mommy had trouble with it! But we now have a very cool decoration to last until the holiday is over.

The sleigh works as an automaton, a machine that is pushed into motion, and the instruction booklet included neat STEM learning about other examples of automatons (think jack-in-the-boxes or vending machines), and also a detailed explanation at the end about how you’ve built a “cam”. Here’s a rough outline of what we did:

First we made a frame, slotting together the provided wooden pieces and foam stickers to help hold them in place.

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We then needed to build the crank part of our cam by attaching wooden circles to a crank in the proper order.

Next up was the part of the cam that would go up and down. This required fitting plastic rods into the wood stand, securing them onto a paper square at the base, and adding a paper straw and foam donut to hold them in place. Here is where the machine seemed a bit faulty, with the paper squares not staying firmly on the wheels of the crank. Hmmm…

But we forged on, adding the felt reindeer, Santa and sleigh (quite tiny!) to each of the plastic rods. Secure them all with the provided string for a leash.

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There is a decorated backdrop with felt houses and trees to attach. Now Santa’s sleigh and team are ready to fly!

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Travis does indeed enjoy turning the crank, so there is holiday magic (and science!) to be had in the final product.


Apple Crumb Pie

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We had a pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving this year, but that didn’t stop me and Travis from whipping up this apple pie at home a few days later! He loved preparing this recipe from his Thanksgiving Table Raddish Kids.

To prepare the crust, combine 1 and 1/4 cups flour, 1 teaspoon sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large bowl.

Cut 1/2 cup Earth Balance butter into small cubes. Add to the flour mixture, using your fingers or a pastry blender to cut in until the mixture is like small flakes. Raddish recommended the fingertip method, but Travis preferred using a tool for less of a mess on his hands.

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Add 4 tablespoons cold water. Stir with your hands and form a ball, then wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes

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Meanwhile, prepare the apple filling. Travis single-handedly peeled all 2 pounds of Granny Smith apples. He loved this part!

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As he finished each apple, he handed it over and I thinly sliced it. Combine the apples in a bowl with 1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice, 1/3 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

To prepare the crumb topping, melt 1/2 cup Earth Balance butter in a microwave-safe bowl for about 30 seconds. Stir in 1 and 1/4 cups flour, 1/3 cup brown sugar, and 1/3 cup sugar. Stir with a fork until combined.

Roll the dough into a 12-inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Transfer to a pie plate. Press into the pan, and trim any overhanging edges. The recipe card featured two options for decorating the edge: pressing with a fork, or crimping. We chose crimping!

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Spoon the apple filling into the crust. Sprinkle the flour mixture on top, and bake at 375 degrees F for 1 hour. The recipe card also had the helpful suggestion to check the pie after 40 minutes and tent with foil, if the top was getting too brown. So we did! The resulting pie was perfect.

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As he enjoyed a slice, we checked out the recipe card’s other features, including information on harvest festivals around the world and about the life cycle of an apple.

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Rainbow Paper Experiment

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Here’s a quick project that’s equal parts science and art. It was the perfect follow-up to Travis’s Rainbow Optics crate from Kiwi Co.

Because it’s a bit messy and you have to work quickly, I gathered all the materials ahead of time. You’ll need paper towels for drying, small squares of black construction paper, a bowl filled with about 1 inch of water, and clear nail polish.

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Place one of the black squares in the water, soaking completely. Let float towards the surface. Now it was Travis’s very important job to add 3 drops of the clear nail polish.

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Remove the paper very quickly, pinching it from one corner, and place on the paper towels to dry. Now it was covered in rainbow swirls!

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We wanted to make a few more, but found that the nail polish residue made streaks in the water; as a result, each ensuing piece of paper came out a bit messier.

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Still, these were quite pretty, and you could glue them onto cardstock for a pretty art print if desired!

Write a Letter to Santa

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Christmas is 25 days away, and if you want to start the holiday off on a magical note for your kids, consider having them write to Santa!

Travis and I sat down with paper and markers (in red and green of course), and talked through his list.

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I helped him sound out and spell each item, which was great handwriting practice, too.

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His list included current favorites like Star Wars figures (Boba Fett, Kylo Ren) and a winter vest.

To make the letter truly special requires a little parental trickery. Write back a letter from Santa in response to your child. I used markers to disguise my handwriting.

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Now seal both letters in an envelope addressed to your child, and mark the return address as “Santa, The North Pole.” Don’t forget a stamp! Place this inside a larger envelope, addressed to the following:

ANCHORAGE AK 99530-9998

In return, you’ll receive a true North Pole postmark on the return letter from “Santa”. USPS recommends mailing by December 7. So make those lists and check them twice!

Thanksgiving Table Decorations

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Just a quick post tonight on some holiday decor from our table this year! Travis got to help out in a few ways.

For starters, we colored in the place cards that came with his Thanksgiving Table Raddish Kids.

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These were good practice for writing names of family members, too!

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He also helped with the centerpiece, helping to arrange a few decorative gourds next to a bouquet of flowers.

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You can also show your child how to fold napkins into “turkey feathers”. Accordion-pleat cloth napkins and arrange on every plate.

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Finally, no vegan table is complete without a celebratory roast.

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We named our roast Hank Williams after the turkey we adopted from Farm Sanctuary this year. Here’s wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving!